Oaklawn shifts racing season for 2019

The horse Classic Empire races at Oaklawn Park (Photo courtesy of Oaklawn Park)

Oaklawn Racing & Gaming announced Wednesday that horse racing will start later than usual in 2019, a shift the organization said will allow for more favorable weather at the Hot Springs track.

Race season next year is set to open Jan. 25 and continue through May 4, three weeks after the Arkansas Derby. The season has traditionally opened in mid-January and concluded with the Arkansas Derby in mid-April.

Oaklawn President Louis Cella said in a news release that the organization had been discussing a schedule shift for "a number of years." In the past decade under the previous schedule, 14 race days in January have been cancelled because of weather, including two this year.

"The quality of our program is calling on us to present racing in the most favorable weather conditions," Cella said in the release. "There is nowhere in America more beautiful for great racing than Arkansas in the spring.”

Bill Walmsley of the Arkansas Horseman's Benevolent and Protective Association said in the statement that the group supports the new schedule.

“We are essentially trading January race days, when there is always the chance of cancellation due to weather, for April race dates, when Arkansas weather is at its finest,” he said. “The later closing should be an additional enticement to the top racing stables to come to Arkansas."

Races will still be held Thursday through Sunday under the new schedule.

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